The theme chosen by the Pontifical Council for Culture for its 2006 plenary assembly follows in the wake of preceding assemblies in seeking to assist the Church to transmit faith in Christ through a pastoral approach that responds to the challenges of contemporary culture, notably religious indifference and unbelief. (cf. Motu proprio, Inde a Pontificatus) With projects and concrete proposals, it seeks to help pastors follow the via pulchritudinis, as a pathway of evangelisation of cultures and dialogue with non-believers, leading to Christ, “the way, the truth and the life.” (Jn 14,6)

Below is a mixture of summaries and direct quotes from Via Pulchritudinis.

A Crucial Challenge

The Church faces a crucial challenge in evangelizing cultures amidst increasing secularization and anti-Catholic sentiment. The rise of new religiosities and spiritualities presents a significant obstacle, often luring people away from traditional faith practices. Despite this, Christians continue to demonstrate vitality and resilience, evident in events like World Youth Days and Eucharistic Congresses, as well as the growth of religious movements and pilgrimages. The Church remains alive and dynamic, offering hope for the future despite the challenges it faces.

Accepting the Challenge

The Church, recognizing the challenges of our times, seeks to engage with people through pastoral approaches rooted in the Word of God and sacraments. Embracing the Way of Beauty, it aims to lead people to Christ by appreciating the transcendent beauty inherent in the universe, inviting them to encounter the divine through aesthetic experiences. However, it acknowledges the risk of beauty being distorted by sin and consumerism, emphasizing the need for discernment and authentic relationships grounded in love. Through the via pulchritudinis, the Church endeavors to bridge the gap between culture and faith, inviting all to discover the beauty of the Gospel.

How can the Via Pulchritudinis be a Response?

Pope John Paul II urges philosophers to explore the dimensions of truth, goodness, and beauty as pathways to God in the new evangelization. Beauty, in its capacity to attract and captivate, leads us to contemplate the perfection and splendor of God. However, this journey from phenomenon to foundation requires discernment, as beauty can also be distorted by sin and become an idol. Educating youth for beauty and guiding them to discern media culture’s offerings are crucial steps in fostering true maturity. Just as St. Augustine experienced a profound transformation upon encountering the beauty of God, so too can others find joy and authenticity in embracing the God of Beauty.

The Way of Beauty, Pathway towards the Truth and the Good

Von Balthasar and Solzhenitsyn emphasized the enduring importance of beauty alongside truth and goodness, suggesting that beauty has the power to reach hearts and cultures where other avenues may falter. Pope Paul VI highlighted the necessity of beauty in a world that teeters on despair, noting its ability to unite generations and inspire admiration. Beauty, when contemplated with purity, speaks directly to the soul, evoking marvel and gratitude, and stirring profound interior transformation. The way of beauty addresses the innate human longing for happiness, leading individuals beyond the transient to the transcendent, towards the ultimate beauty of God. This pursuit of beauty aids in understanding suffering and brings healing to wounded cultures and souls.

III. The Ways of Beauty

Three areas stand out for the privileged way of beauty to enable dialogue with contemporary cultures:

III.1 The Beauty of Creation;

III.2 The Beauty of the Arts; and

III.3 The Beauty of Christ, Model and Prototype of Christian Holiness.

The beauty of God, revealed by the singular beauty of His Son, constitutes the origin and end of all creation. If it is possible to begin with the most basic level, then to ascend following a dynamic written in the Sacred Scriptures, from the tangible beauty of nature to the beauty of the Creator, this beauty shines in a unique manner on the face of Christ and in His Mother and the saints. The Christian sees the “creation” as inseparable from “re-creation”, for if God has judged good and beautiful the work of six days, (cf. Gen 1) sin, along with disorder, has introduced the ugliness of death and evil. “Oh happy fault, which gained for us such a Redeemer!” sings the Easter liturgy. The Grace which flows from the side of Christ the Saviour across the world, purifies and introduces a beauty that is completely other to save the world, which groaningly awaits the hour of its final transformation. (Rm 8, 22)

III.1 The Beauty of Creation:

Scripture emphasizes the symbolic significance of the beauty found in the world around us. The natural beauty of creation serves as a pathway leading to the contemplation of its Creator. Despite the vast difference between God’s ineffable beauty and the beauty found in creation, the aim of this ascent is to analogically contemplate the Author of creation through the grandeur and beauty of His creatures. This journey from the visible forms of nature to the invisible Creator is encapsulated in the Creed’s profession of faith in the One God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth.

A) Marveling at the Beauty of Creation:

Contemplating the beauty of nature, poets like Baudelaire are moved by its mysterious language, inviting us to ponder the Artisan behind such grandeur. This contemplation evokes a sense of peace and harmony, leading to spiritual attitudes of adoration and thanksgiving. The Franciscan tradition sees creation as sacramental, revealing traces of its Creator.

B) From Creation to Re-creation:

Despite humanity’s fall from grace through sin, Christ restores man to his original beauty and elevates him to divine sonship. Through the Incarnation, Christ fully reveals humanity’s calling and restores its likeness to God. Christians, transfigured by Christ’s grace, become witnesses to the beauty of holiness, drawing others to God through their transformed lives.

C) Creation, Used or Idolized:

Many people view nature solely in its material form, devoid of any deeper beauty or connection to a Creator. In a culture dominated by scientism, the cosmos is often reduced to a resource to fulfill human needs, disregarding its intrinsic value and harmony. The Book of Wisdom warns against such shortsightedness, emphasizing the importance of respecting nature’s laws and harmony. While nature should be revered, it must not be idolized or placed above the dignity of the human person, who is tasked with stewardship over it.

Pastoral Proposals (not summarized) 

Particular attention to nature helps discover in it the mirror of the beauty of God. Greater care needs to be given to creation and its beauty in human and Christian formation, avoiding the risks of reducing it to simple ecologism or a pantheistic vision. Some movements try to install in the youth an ability to observe nature and make them aware of the need to protect it. This helps people discover the project of the Creator God, by appealing to the sentiments connected to marvel, adoration and thanksgiving. We must carefully put in practice the twofold dimension of listening:

– listening to creation that tells the glory of God.

– and listen to God who speaks to us through his creation and makes himself accessible to reason, according to the teaching of the First Vatican Council (Dei Filius, Ch. 2, can.1).

Catechesis in its efforts to form children and young people can make the most of it by developing a pedagogy of observation of natural beauties and consequent fundamentally human attitudes: silence, interioristation, listening, patient waiting, admiration, discovery of harmony, respect for natural equilibrium, meaning of gratuity, adoration and contemplation.

The teaching of an authentic philosophy of nature and a beautiful theology of creation needs a new impulse in a culture where the dialogue faith-science is particularly crucial. It is a culture for which clerics need a minimum level of epistemological awareness and scientists can draw more from the immense undertakings of the Christian wisdom tradition.[19] The prejudices of scientism and fideism are still present in everyday mentality, so it is important to provoke occasions for a meeting between people of science and faith at all levels: in Catholic teaching institutions, formation houses, Universities, Catholic Cultural Centres, etc. The Jubilee of Scientists,[20] celebrated during 2000, has provoked new cultural initiatives destined to renew the dialogue between science and faith. Among these stands Project STOQ (Science Theology and the Ontological Quest), promoted by the Pontifical Council for Culture in collaboration with several Pontifical Universities. Indeed, each branch of knowing, e.g. philosophy, theology, social and human sciences, psychology, can contribute to the revealing the beauty of God and of his creation.

Actions in favour of the defence of nature or the natural habitat organised by Christian communities or religious families inspired by the example of St Francis, who “contemplated the Most Beautiful in the beautiful things,”[21] have a certain echo and contribute to the development of a vision which is less idolatrous of nature. An example can be seen in the Pastoral letter of the Bishops of Queensland, Australia entitled “Let the Many Coastlands be Glad! A Pastoral Letter on the Great Barrier Reef.”  In contemporary culture, it is important to multiply initiatives by which the Church transmits the sense of the authentic value of nature, its beauty, its symbolic power and its capacity to uncover the creating work of God.

III.2 The Beauty of the Arts:

Artistic creation, like nature, has the power to evoke the mystery of God and lead to contemplation. While nature brings us to a silent admiration, art stirs interior emotions and prompts an “exit from self.” For believers, art transcends mere aesthetics and finds its ultimate archetype in God, particularly in the contemplation of Christ’s mystery. Christian-inspired art, a significant part of humanity’s cultural heritage, captivates people across cultures and religions, drawing them closer to the beauty of God revealed in Christ.

A) Beauty Inspired by the Faith:

Christian-inspired art, ranging from paintings to music, serves as a powerful expression of faith, conveying the beauty of God to humanity. Artists throughout history have drawn inspiration from Christ’s life, creating works that resonate with believers and non-believers alike. These works extend Revelation by providing tangible forms to divine truths, inviting viewers to contemplate the profound beauty of God.

B) Learning to Welcome this Beauty:

Christian artwork possesses timeless relevance, offering an opportunity for all to participate in the faith experience. However, a lack of understanding of Christian themes and biblical literacy often hinders the appreciation of such art. Efforts are needed to bridge this gap and allow Christian art to communicate its message effectively, transcending mere aesthetic appreciation to convey profound spiritual truths.

C) Sacred Art, Instrument of Evangelization and Catechesis:

Sacred art serves as a formidable instrument of catechesis, effectively communicating the Gospel message to believers and non-believers alike. It breaks down barriers, fosters dialogue, and leads individuals to perceive the universality of Christ’s message. By rereading and contextualizing Christian art within the life of the Church, believers can deepen their understanding of the faith and enter into contemplative prayer, experiencing an authentic encounter with God through beauty.

Pastoral Proposals (not summarized)

John Paul II’s Letter to Artists is a fundamental reference point here, and finds a clear echo in the passage cited from the Pontifical Council for Culture’s document Towards a Pastoral Approach to Culture. [28] Episcopal Conferences can take these two texts as the starting point for concrete initiatives.[29]

It is a matter of using an appropriate pedagogy to initiate people into the language of beauty, to educate them to seize the message of Christian art. This is what makes works beautiful and above all favours in them a meeting with the mystery of Christ. Awareness is growing in this domain, and there is a visible return of interest in the study of sacred Christian art, which is now better known by those who are responsible for Christian formation.[30] Faced with widely spread atheist and ideological interpretations, the need is felt for a major work of theoretical reformulation of the teaching of sacred art, based on an authentic Christian vision.

It is a matter of creating the conditions for a renewal of artistic creation in the Christian community, and forming effective links with artists to help them capture what makes works of art authentically religious and sacred art. Much has been done already in many dioceses but more can yet be done to make the most of the Church’s rich cultural and artistic patrimony, born of the Christian faith, and use it as an instrument of evangelisation, catechesis and dialogue. It is not enough just to set up art galleries, rather the conditions must also be created to let this patrimony express the content of its message. An authentically beautiful liturgy helps enter into this particular language of the faith, made of symbols and evocations of the mystery being celebrated.

Some initiatives have already been tried and tested and merit further attention:

– Dialogue with artists—painters, sculptors, architects for future church buildings, restorers, musicians, poets, playwrights, etc.—in order to foster a new creativity, nourish their imagination with the sources of the faith, and foster relations between the desires of the Church and the production of artists. Liturgical illiteracy among artists chosen to construct churches is a problem all too widespread.

– Formation in the beauty of the Christian mystery expressed in sacred art on the occasion of the inauguration of a new Church, a work of art, a concert, a particular liturgy.

– Organisation of cultural and artistic events—exhibitions, prize competitions, concerts, conferences, festivals, etc.—to value the immense patrimony of the Church and help it deliver its message and inspire new creativity, especially in the areas of art and liturgical chant.

– Local publications in the guise of tourist guides, webpages, or specialised journals on patrimony, with the pedagogical aim of highlighting the soul, inspiration and message of works, scientific analysis is thereby put at the service of a deeper understanding of the work.

– Make pastoral agents, catechists, and religion teachers, seminarians and clergy aware of this issue through formation courses, seminars, thematic meetings, guided tours. Diocesan museums and Catholic Cultural Centres can play an important role, notably in proposing the reading of local and regional works of art and using them in catechesis.

– Formation of guides in the specificity of Christian-inspired art, creation of specialist groups to make the most of art and cultural Centres that share these same goals.

– Study and deeper awareness of the issues in schools and universities with Masters Degrees, seminars, laboratories, etc. Offering of bursaries to promote education in this area. Development at the regional and national levels of Institutes of Sacred Music, Liturgy, Archaeology, etc., and the constitution of specialized libraries in this domain.

III.3 The Beauty of Christ, Model and Prototype of Christian Holiness 

It highlights three fundamental ways to discover beauty: through creation, artwork, and the icon of holiness shaped by the Holy Spirit in the Church. The Church, as the witness of Christ’s beauty, reflects this beauty through acts of charity, engagement in justice, and the promotion of peace. This witness of beauty brings hope and offers reasons to live. 

A) “On the Pathway towards the Beauty of Christ” emphasizes the interior beauty of a life transformed by grace, which Pope Benedict XVI describes as giving wings and making it beautiful to be Christian. The presentation of beauty in pastoral work helps awaken hearts to Christ. Christian holiness reflects the beauty of Christ, exemplified by the Immaculate Conception and the saints, who are luminous reflections of Christ’s beauty.

B) “The Luminous Beauty of Christ and its Reflection in Christian Holiness” underscores Jesus Christ as the perfect representation of the Father’s glory and the most beautiful among humans. Christian holiness entails being fascinated by God’s beauty and truth, even to the point of renouncing everything. The saints illustrate this transformation, radiating Christ’s beauty in their lives.

C) “Beauty in the Liturgy” discusses how the holy liturgy, especially the Eucharist, illuminates life with meaning and beauty by making us partakers of Christ’s life. It emphasizes the deep beauty of encountering God in the liturgy and the importance of avoiding superficiality and negligence in liturgical celebrations. The liturgy is missionary when it immerses us in the mystery of God’s love and communion, making it acceptable to God and bringing divine joy.

Pastoral Proposals

It is good to offer the message of Christ in all its beauty, able to attract the spirits and hearts through the links of love. At the same time we must live and witness to the beauty of the communion in a world often marked by disharmony and rupture. It is a matter of transforming into “events of beauty” the gestures of daily charity and all the ordinary pastoral activities of the local. The saving beauty of Christ must be presented in a renewed manner so that each believer and also the indifferent may welcome it and contemplate Him. The attention of pastors and catechists needs to be brought to this issue so that their preaching and teaching will lead to the beauty of Christ. Christians are called to witness to the joy and to know that they are beloved of God and of a beauty of life transformed by this love which comes from on high.

For the closure of the Great Jubilee of 2000, John Paul II sent the apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte to the whole Church. He expressly invited us to re-begin in Christ and to learn to contemplate His face. From this contemplation springs forth the desire, the necessity and the urgency to rediscover the authentic meaning of the mystery of the Christian liturgy in which it concretely lives out the meeting with the Saviour who died and rose again.[37]

To meet this call, many bishops sent Pastoral Letters to their dioceses on the beauty of salvation and the meaning of the liturgical celebration underlining the beauty of the meeting with Christ, on Sundays, the day consecrated to Him, which gives time for pause in the relentless and frenetic rhythm of our societies.[38]

Others have also been engaged in the via pulchritudinis in recent decades, for example Mariologists, especially since Paul VI spoke to the Seventh International Congress of Mariology on 16 May 1975.[39]

It is a matter of presenting with a language that speaks and is pleasing to our contemporaries and using the most apt means the precious witness given by the Mother of God, the martyrs and the saints who have followed Christ in a particularly “attractive” manner. Much is being done in catechetical programmes to let the extraordinary lives of the saints be discovered. It is clear today that, for young people, saints are fascinating—think of Francis of Assisi and José of Anchieta, Juan Diego and Theresa of the Child Jesus, Rose of Lima and Bakhita, Kisito and Maria Goretti, Father Kolbe and Mother Theresa and the theatrical works, films, comic strips, recitals, concerts and muscials that re-create their stories. Their example calls each Christian to be a pilgrim on the pathway of beauty, truth, good, in journeying to the Celestial Jerusalem where we will contemplate the beauty of God in a relation full of love, face-to-face. “There, we will rest and we will see; we will see and we will love, we will love and we will praise. Such will be the end, without end.”[40]

An appropriate education helps the faithful grow in the life of prayer of adoration and worship, and fuller participation in the truth to a liturgy lived in the fullness of beauty which immerses the faithful in the mystery of faith. At the same time as re-educating the faithful to marvel at the thinkgs that God works in our lives, it is also necessary to give back to the liturgy its true “splendour”, all its dignity and authentic beauty, by rediscovering the authentic sense of Christian mystery, and forming the faithful so that they can enter into the meaning and beauty of the celebrated mystery and live it authentically.

Liturgy is not what man does, but is a divine work. The faithful need to be helped to perceive that the act of worship is not the fruit of activity, a product, a merit, a gain, but is the expression of a mystery, of something that cannot be entirely understood but that needs to be received rather than conceptualised. It is an act entirely free from considerations of efficiency. The attitude of the believer in the liturgy is marked by its capacity to receive, a condition of the progress of the spiritual life. This attitude is no longer spontaneous in a culture where rationalism seeks to direct everything, even our most intimate sentiments.

No less important is the promotion of sacred art to accompany aptly the celebration of the mysteries of the faith, to give beauty back to ecclesiastical buildings and liturgical objects. In this way they will be welcoming, and above all able to convey the authentic meaning of Christian liturgy and encourage full participation of the faithful in the divine mysteries, following the wish often expressed during the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist.

Certainly the churches must be aesthetically beautiful and well decorated, the liturgies accompanied by beautiful chants and good music, the celebrations dignified and preaching well prepared, but it is not this in itself which is the via pulchritudinis or that which changes us. These are just conditions that facilitate the action of the grace of God. Therefore the faithful need to be educated to pay attention not merely to the aesthetic dimension of the liturgy, however beautiful it may be, but also to understand that the Litrugy is a divine act that is not determined by an ambiance, a climate or even by rubrics, for it is the mystery of faith celebrated in Church.


To propose the via pulchritudinis as a pathway of evangelisation and dialogue is to begin with the haunting question, sometimes latent, but always present in our hearts, “What is beauty?” to lead “all men of good will, in whom Grace acts invisibly” towards the “perfect man” who is the “image of the unseen God.”[41]

This quest leads back to the original times, as if man were desperately seeking the world of beauty out of his reach ever since the original fall. It crosses history under multiple forms and the profusion of a multitude of works of beauty in all civilisations does not quench its thirst.

Pilate asked Christ the question concerning the truth. Christ replied with silence: this truth is unspoken but reaches, without words, the very heart of our being. Jesus revealed Himself to His disciples, “I am the way the truth and the life.” Now he is silent. But he shows the way, the path of truth which peaks at the cross, mystery of wisdom. Pilate does not understand, but mysteriously he Himself gives the answer to His question, “What is truth?” Before the people he cries, “Behold the Man!” It is Christ who is the truth.

If beauty is the splendour of the truth, then our question is that of Pilate, and the reply is the same: it is Jesus Himself who is Beauty. He manifests Himself from Tabor to the Cross, shedding light on the mystery of man, disfigured by sin, but purified and recreated by Redeeming Love. Jesus is not a path among others, a truth among others, a beauty among others. He does not propose one way among others. He is the living path that leads to the living truth that gives true life. Supreme beauty, splendour of the Truth, Jesus is the source of all beauty because, Word of God made flesh, He is the manifestation of the Father. “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” (Jn 14, 9)

The summit, the archetype of beauty manifests itself in the face of the Son of Man crucified on the Cross of sorrows, Revelation of infinite love of God who, in His mercy for His creatures, restores beauty lost with original sin. “Beauty will save the world,” because this beauty is Christ, the only beauty that defies evil, and triumphs over death. By love, the “most beautiful of the children of men” became “the man of sorrows”, “without beauty, without majesty no looks to attract our eyes” (Is, 53, 2) and so he rendered to man, to each and every man the fullness of His beauty, His dignity and His true grandeur. In Christ, and only in Him, our via crucis is transformed into His in the via lucis and the via pulchritudinis.

The Church of the third millennium seeks this beauty in the meeting with its Lord, and with Him, in the dialogue of love with the men and women of our times. At the heart of cultures, to respond to their anxieties, their joys and hopes, the Church never ceases to profess with Pope Benedict: “If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation.”[42]